Aniah Ferguson Is Not A “Brute” and Prison Isn’t the Answer

aniah ferguson

By Arielle Newton

A widely circulated video of a vicious assault of a teenage girl has resulted in the arrest of Aniah Ferguson, the 16 year old Black girl principally involved in the attack. She’s charged as an adult with criminal contempt and mischief. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams offered a $1000 reward for information leading to the arrests of the other girls involved.

I found the video morally repugnant, unacceptable, unjust, and unbefitting of conscious character. But I’m equally bothered by resulting media coverage — especially from NY Daily News — that’s relying on tropes to push this story to the mainstream masses.

Brutes. Savages. This language has an unpleasant connection to the propaganda machines of the 19th and 20th centuries that mongrelized Black folk with identical terminology.

The behavior of these women is inexcusable, but I see past the actions. I see histories and context, and I connect the dots through a reasoned racial, gender, and class analysis.

Aniah Ferguson is emotionally and mentally ill. With a decorated rap sheet, Ferguson’s been arrested ten times, six of which occurred since her 16th birthday last July. Arrested just a month ago, she was charged with assault. In the past, she’s stabbed her brother with a knife, injured a police officer during an arrest, and beat up her 64-year-old grandmother. Aniah Ferguson has severe behavioral issues, which is especially troubling considering she’s a single mother of a 1 year old child.

She needs help. Not prison.

I empathize — passionately — with the call for justice. But justice doesn’t look like caging a Black teen with documented behavioral issues in the suffocating confines of the prison industrial complex. Prison is about revenge, not rehabilitation; her incarceration will serve no other purpose than to embolden her criminal behavior, erode the ability to emotionally connect with others, cause further psychological and sociological damage, and boost the likelihood for repeat offenses.

The manner in which we approach justice is sickening. A Black teenager with clear dissociative and violent behavior, isn’t seen as a victim whose existence is complicated and worthy of comprehensive health needs. She’s only a savage brute who should be thrown away and forgotten.

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Arielle Newton is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Black Millennials. Follow her @arielle_newton. Follow Black Millennials @BlkMillennialsThis post originally appeared on Black Millennials

 

Photo: NY Daily News/Facebook

Meet the Girl Behind “On Fleek”

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Seventeen year-old Chicago native Kayla Newman is the young woman behind what might be the most popular slang term of the past year.

Speaking to Newsweek, Newman said the phrase just came to her.

‘I never heard of the word, and nobody else had heard of the word. I just said it, and I guess that’s what came out. That’s about it.’

Her six second Vine soon went viral. It currently has nearly 30 million loops. The phrase has been used by everyone form Nicki Minaj to IHOP. Newman told Newsweek that she’s planning to come up with more popular phrases.

‘I’m trying to think of some, but it’s like, with me, it’s just gonna flow.’

Why is this important? Because it is rare for black culture creators to get their due once their contributions have gone mainstream. Here’s to hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Kayla.

Read more at Newsweek.

h/t For Harriet

 

Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Newman/Screenshot

New Film Revisits the 1983 US Invasion of Grenada

The 1983 United States invasion of the small Caribbean island of Grenada won’t be forgotten if filmmaker Damani Baker has anything to do with it. Baker was nine years-old when his mother moved him and his sister to Grenada during the nation’s revolution. His film, The House on Coco Road, is the story of family, history and revolution.

From KickStarter:

In 1979 the Grenadian people carry out the first successful revolution in the English speaking Caribbean. Maurice Bishop becomes Prime Minister. The Revolution attracts workers from around the world including my mother, Fannie Haughton. In 1982 Angela Davis, her family, and my mother visit Grenada to witness this miraculous Peoples’ Revolution. In 1983 my mother is offered a position in the Ministry of Education and we leave our home in Oakland and move to Grenada. I’d never seen her happier.

Grenada was briefly our home. In 1983 the United States led a military invasion following the assassination of the young popular Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. We hid under the bed for three days as bombs shook our new paradise, and changed its course forever.

Sixteen years later, in 1999, I returned to Grenada with my mother, and began shooting a documentary film, searching for her story, one that felt not just untold, but unfinished. My mother, and a group of tireless women, had put their lives on the line, daring to build a better type of country, a stronger more resilient home. You may not know their names, but they have changed the world.

You can learn more about the film and support it here.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Damani Baker

 

That SAE Video, Racist College Culture & Black Student Survival at University

SAE-video_protest

By Denene Millner

 

I don’t know why folks are acting all shocked by this SAE video madness, as if despicably racist, nigger-filled rants by groups of white college boys is somehow new, fresh, unexpected and unique. Any human who’s ever stepped foot on the campus of a predominately white college or university can tell you with relative ease that this kind of behavior, that kind of brazen foolishness, those kind of animals, are all par for the course on the soils of American institutions of higher learning.

It’s the same ol’ story: members of the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a fraternity founded before the Civil War in the antebellum south, got busted singing this racist song about never letting Black people pledge. Though the SAE video doesn’t show the segregationist ditty in its entirety, the refrain repeated over and over again to the melody of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”—”there will never be a nigger in SAE”—is interspersed with a reminder of the frat members’ willingness to do what the good ol’ boys of the Jim Crow south used to do to terrorize Black folk into following their racist rules: “You can hang ‘em from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me.” Of course, the entire bus is practically rocking as its passengers, clad in tuxedos, heading to an event at an exclusive golf club, sing the song with great gusto and glee. A separate Vine video shows the frat’s house mother, looking like a Paula Deen understudy, repeatedly and rapidly saying the word “nigger” while she giggles into the camera—like she’s really used to letting it just roll off her tongue.

In typical fashion, the fraternity’s national chapter issued an apology and put an ocean’s worth of distance between itself and its errant members, claiming in a statement that the song is not one it teaches SAE brothers and that it’s totes cool with the University of Oklahoma’s move to drop kick the local chapter off its campus. The statement went on to say that they’re suspending the U of O students from their fraternity, they’re working with African Americans to “build a partnership that will address the need for additional training, awareness and resources on cultural and diversity issues” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

And right there is where it gets especially stupid. Because everyone pondering this thing—from the university to the fraternity to the members to the media and beyond—is acting like this is some isolated incident that goes away with a statement and an expulsion and a meeting with the Black Student Union.

It doesn’t.

Racism on American campuses is as ingrained and regular and damn-near non-eventful as rain is wet, grass is green and sugar is sweet. Because, duh, the campuses are filled with Americans—all-too-many white folk who were raised at the knee of parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins and friends who can’t stand Blacks (Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners and Indians and everyone else of color, too) and hold tight to stereotypes and privilege that makes them certain white folks are the shit and everyone else is nothing more than the soiled toilet tissue on the bottom of their shoes. This is not a white frat thing. This is not a southern university thing. This is not an isolated incident. This is America. This is fact.

I learned that much not more than half an hour into my college experience at my alma mater, Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y. My parents couldn’t have been out of the parking lot after our teary good-byes before one of my two roommates, a girl from the butt-crack of Pennsylvania, informed me that she’d never seen “a Black girl in real life before.” This while the other roommate, from Chicago, ran her fingers across my toiletries and, settling on my jar of Dax hair greased, asked me what it was for before informing me that while she’d seen Black people before, she didn’t know any personally.

I wasn’t sure what to make of what they’d said, but I didn’t know anyone on campus yet, so, operating on the “you all I got” philosophy, I pushed their treating me like a Martian aside and agreed to go with Chicago to meet some of her friends in a neighboring dorm. Hey, I had to start somewhere, right? Well, that was a disaster. While I stood in a corner of her friend’s room, trying to figure out what I could say to fit in with these girls—all white—another girl came barging into the room, pissed. “That stupid nigger downstairs wouldn’t let me into the door because I don’t have my ID yet,” she seethed, completely unaware that I was there until her friends, frozen and wide-eyed, introduced her to me, the Black girl.

“I didn’t mean nigger in a bad way,” she insisted. “I meant nigger like, ignorant person. Not black.”

I wish I could tell you that I had a pithy comeback, or that I punched her in the face in solidarity with my people or that I called her on her racist crap. But honestly, she caught me off guard, y’all. I did not expect to hear the word a half an hour into my time out in the “real world.” I did not expect to have to confront the person who said it. I did not expect to be paired with roommates who’d never seen or talked to Black people before and had only stereotypes and yes, racist beliefs, to work with before they met special, naive, nervous, “can’t we all just get along” ol’ me.

The experience grew me up real quick, trust. And by the time I left Hofstra, I was real clear on the ways of racist white folk.

But when I went to that school, I wasn’t ready because no one prepared me for it. I’m the first and only one in my immediate family to go to and graduate college and so it makes sense that my parents wouldn’t know thing one about campus dynamics. But I’ll be damned if I let my girlpies tap one of their manicured toes on the campus greens without understanding that American colleges and universities are but a mere microcosm of America, with a faction of racists who are often too young, stupid and drunk to hide their sick, twisted thinking when it comes to race. They sit in classes as kind as you please during the daytime, but in the cover of night, they whoop and holler and piss all in the hallways and tear up furniture and fixtures and sexually assault young women and yell racist shit at Black folk with impunity, knowing nothing will happen to them because the campus system, like the American system, is set up to protect them. To let them act any ol’ kind of way because they’re white and they just can. Campus security is too busy policing Black students, professors, administrators and workers to care that the others are tearing the campus apart and attacking and abusing students of color.

What those boys were doing in the SAE video was not new. It happens every second of the day in the dorm rooms, in the locker rooms, in the bleachers of the sporting events, and yes, at alcohol-fueled frat parties of every non-HBCU college and university in the country. Don’t believe me? Consider all the racist Black face, anti-Black and -immigrant kegers these idiots host then splash onInstagram and Twitter, with an attitude that’s totally, “Like what? We’re just having fuuuuun!”

While the University of Oklahoma’s president should be applauded for his swift action to denounce the offending students, kick them out of school, ban the frat and shutter SAE’s campus house—real talk, those were boss moves—each of us has to stop acting as if this kind of behavior is rare and happens in a vacuum. (I’m looking at you, four-star recruit Jean Delance, who rescinded his commitment to play at U of O after the video surfaced and instead chose to go to the University of Alabama instead—as if this kind of behavior doesn’t rear it’s ugly head ever in Alabama.)

Racism on college campuses is systemic.

It is real.

It is pervasive.

Let’s start the conversation there.

And rather than call in the good BSU folk to help white students understand why it’s hurtful to sing “nigger” songs, how about we put that effort into giving Black students the tools and mettle they need to make it through the race gauntlet they’ll surely face on America’s college campuses. Indeed, in America, period.

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Denene Millner is a NY Times best-selling author. She is the founder of MyBrownBaby. This post originally appeared on MyBrownBaby.

 

Photo: SAE protest/Screenshot

Kendrick Lamar and the Erasure of Black Women

kendrick-lamar-rolling-stones-cover

By Arielle Newton

 

Kendrick Lamar is my favorite New School rapper. His lyrical prowess alongside his masterful production, is an honorable change to the predictable pop-tainted “bars” that defines mainstream hip hop today. But recently, the man who I thought to be a creative revolutionary, is causing me Black feminist angst.

There was the sidestep to respectability politics when, in an interview with Billboard, he blamed Mike Brown for his own death. The fact that he expressed such views to Billboard — a platform known to explicitly cater to white audiences — was problematic; sidelining the transcendent lyrical technician to the confines of a Good Negro.

People also took issue with his defense of Iggy Azalea, a woman known for her racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation. In the same interview, he remarked:

“Do your thing, continue to rock it, because obviously God wants you here.”

His words sparked an awkward three-way Twitter joust between Lupe FiascoKid Cudi, and Azealia Banks; a feud I paid little attention to because Kendrick wasn’t a part. Instead, I honed in on Kendrick’s words themselves. As a man who’s extremely conscious and intentional in his thoughts and the language he uses to express them, I was both curious and frustrated with his lack of nuance or philosophical depth such loaded words required.

He did not comment on the ways in which Iggy Azalea’s inclusion in rap music is smeared with white privilege, nor how Black male rap moguls like T.I. and Snoop Doggmade extremely profitable careers off misogynoir towards Black women, but cape for Iggy Azalea without a second thought.

Kendrick stayed quiet about how malicious it is to the People and the Culture to see a whack rapper lauded as one of the best female hip hop artists just because she’s white. He should know. He got snubbed in favor of Macklemore at last year’s Grammys after all.

He insulted my race and my gender, but I kept it moving. I still loved him, and impatiently awaited his next album. I embraced “i,” the debut statement which captured the spirit of Black self esteem and authentic Black culture. And the cameo of Ronald Isley, whose “That Lady” was expertly sampled, solidly bridged the generational gap between Black music of then and now.

And then there’s “The Blacker the Berry,” another statement that aroused my pro-Black consciousness. With emotive lyrics, striking imagery, and an excerpt from the famous Malcolm X speech, Kendrick’s statement on Black self-hate was an ingeniously woven tragedy.

Today, Kendrick announced the title and cover art of his fourth album, To Pimp a Butterfly, due to hit shelves March 23rd.

Clearly, the cover is contentious for many reasons. A rough depiction of an American government overthrow; a Black revolution ensconced by the caricatures of thugs and gangstas. Obviously, this provocative artistic portrayal of Black Liberation needs a lyrical backdrop for holistic understanding.

Surrounded by an arguably mongrelized representation of Black males is, what appears, a blonde-haired white female toddler–a subtle nod to the deeply rooted trope of sexually aggressive Black men in relation to white female purity.

And next to that toddler appears a Black woman whose face is hidden by stacks of cash. There’s also a Black woman peeking above the man holding the toddler’s shoulder.

Is Kendrick suggesting that Black women are only visible when there’s a literal proximity to whiteness? Is he suggesting that Black women are literally hidden by profit? Or that Black women are best placed behind a Black man? Who knows.

But through this artwork, it’s strikingly clear that Black Liberation comes when Black men bare it all and sacrifice themselves on the front lines. Black women aren’t leaders, we’re objects whose value is dependent upon where we’re placed.

Maybe I’m being too analytical. But Kendrick Lamar has shown time and time again that he’s extremely intentional in his creative maneuvering; that his craftsmanship is intricately and deliberately designed to tell complex stories stemming from a personal pro-Black ideology.

Kendrick Lamar’s dismissal of Black women is further seen in the latest Rolling Stone cover where a woman who appears either white or racially ambiguous, is braiding his hair.

A white-ish woman. On a white-centered magazine. Braiding the hair of a revolutionary Black man. Sigh.

I still love Kendrick Lamar, and will be one of the first to purchase his album when it drops. But are we — Black women — his Sherane; beings who, in times, of ignorance are sexual temptresses but in times of ascension, antagonists? I do not believe Kendrick Lamar hates Black women. But I do think he’s had experiences that’s sullied his understanding of us, and this miscomprehension plays out in his creative endeavors.

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Arielle Newton is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Black Millennials. Follow her @arielle_newton. Follow Black Millennials @BlkMillennialsThis post originally appeared on Black Millennials.

Photo: Rolling Stone

Empire, Mental Health and Mass Incarceration

andre empire

By Muna Mire

Last week’s Empire was one of most tension-filled, nail-biting episodes I’ve seen yet. With Luscious’s kingdom under siege by the enemy (aided by a jilted Anika), the family pulls together — and Dre falls apart. Still not recovered from the fall out with his father after attempting to appoint himself interim CEO (things got nasty when Dad called out what he saw as wanting to “fit in” with white people in his son), Dre starts to slip off the rails.

There are certain things lacking about the show’s portrayal of mental illness, to be sure. Elaine G. Flores explains for The Root, “it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing but Andre seems to get triggered by everything. It seems to change every second, but that’s not how it works. It’s just one unbelievable aspect of his behavior. He’s wearing a business suit as he cries in the shower. He’s playing Russian roulette. He’s raging and knocking things over. He is doing everything. This is all well-intentioned but unrealistic, and stigmatizes a real health issue.”
The show takes major liberties — often using hyperbole — to engage the viewer. It’s a soap opera. And sometimes, that can be stigmatizing.

What the show gets right with respect to mental health and stigma however, is that psychiatric confinement is a terrifying and brutal ordeal not unlike mass incarceration. In fact, not only do U.S. prisons house more than 10 times as many mentally ill people as state hospitals, but as we saw on the show, getting locked up for mental illness can strip you of all your rights. Watching Dre wrestled to the ground by several uniformed men in what reminded me of the Eric Garner chokehold after being locked in the conference room by his father was, well, triggering. His wife crying and rocking in the corner, those uniformed officials injected him with an unknown substance and he lost consciousness before being carted away to god-knows-where for 48 hours against his will. Who deserves that?

Nationwide, mentally ill people (and Black people living with mental illness in particular) are targeted by law enforcement, both on the streets and on the inside once they’ve been admitted to massive facilities designed specifically to incarcerate the mentally ill. Do we think of these as part of the prison industrial complex? Most of the time, people admitted to facilities like the one in Chicago designed to incarcerate the mentally ill who have committed crimes are criminalized because they are mentally ill.

As we go into this week’s episode and catch up with Dre — who has now been incarcerated against his will — I can’t help but think about Black people living with mental illness in real life. People like the unarmed Black bipolar man who was recently shot and killed by Georgia police. People with a lot less privilege than Andre Lyon. Those Black Lives Matter too, and they are being incarcerated, surveilled, beaten, and killed — are our movements paying attention?

 

Photo: Empire/Fox